So you want to end abortion? Perhaps you’ve marched in the streets, donated to the anti-abortion cause, and shown your support on social media. What else can you do?

Here are some practical steps you can take, right now, to end abortion:

  1. Teach your sons they are financially responsible for any children they father, and that you will hold them to that standard. Too often only women bear the financial burden of an unwanted pregnancy, while men are at least equally responsible for creating the pregnancy.
  2. Teach your sons and daughters about birth control and help them get it. Make sure they know you will help them get it, before they need it.
  3. Petition your local and state governments to overturn laws that require parental consent to obtain birth control. If your relationship with your child is as good as you think, you won’t need an outsider to tell you they are seeking birth control. If you’re afraid your relationship is not that good, work on making it better. Open the lines of communication.
  4. Support sex education in your local schools and make sure it’s part of the curriculum. Ensure abstinence is not the only option – abstinence-only education is highly correlated with increased pregnancy rates and leads to more unwanted pregnancies.
  5. Work with your local, state, and government officials to ensure that birth control is available, affordable and accessible to everyone who wants it. This means condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, whatever is best for the patient – some forms of birth control may be medically contraindicated for some people. Birth control should be free if you really want to end abortion.
  6. Stop frequenting businesses that don’t want their health insurance to cover birth control due to religious reasons, or any other reasons – this is the opposite of what you need to prevent abortion. 
  7. Work with your local, state, and government officials to ensure the morning after pill remains available and accessible.

Abortion is not a cause, it is a symptom of unwanted pregnancy. If you want to stop abortions, stop unwanted pregnancies by making them easy to avoid, and lowering the consequences of unwanted pregnancies for women. Think of all of the abortions you can prevent by following the above steps, and take action.

sweeteners

Inspired by the 100 days of real food blog, I decided to take the 10 day no sweeteners challenge. I realized that my morning coffee had become a maple syrup delivery system. I was spending about $25 a month on maple syrup, which was mostly to sweeten my coffee, with maybe one or two pancakes thrown in. That’s a lot to spend on something with no nutritional value. I have always been a sugar addict – I love cakes, cookies, pies and I have been known to eat an entire box of milk duds pretty much every time I go to the movies (and since I’m also a movie addict, that’s a lot of milk duds!). I knew that these sweeteners were adding a lot of empty calories to my diet, and that I didn’t need them.

A little background: I have always eaten relatively healthy and cooked a lot of my own food, but about two years ago I took the 10 days of real food challenge from the same aforementioned blog, and it was amazing. The first few days were difficult. So much of the food I ate wasn’t allowed, and I hadn’t planned ahead well enough. But I noticed some fantastic changes, just in those ten days:

1. Sleep. I slept through the night, every night. I woke up feeling rested, and that was something that almost never happened!

2. Energy. I had way more energy than I had previously! I felt full of vitality!

3. Mood. My moods were much more regulated – I didn’t fly off the handle for no reason.

This inspired me to make some more permanent changes. I started baking my own bread, tortillas, and biscuits. I used primarily maple syrup and honey as sweeteners, and only occasionally sugar for baking. I made homemade treats instead of buying them. And one year ago, the biggie, I gave up diet coke, which I used to drink gallons of (not exaggerating). So I’ve already been eating pretty healthy when doing this no-sweetener challenge. A lot of people report losing weight on the “real food” diet, but I did not. In fact, I gained weight. I believe there are several reasons for this, one of which is that I don’t like mediocre food. Food that doesn’t taste really great doesn’t get eaten. Once I started making all my own food, everything was delicious, and I overate. Also, I’m not getting any younger, and I’m pretty sedentary, so that may have been a factor. So if you are looking to be healthier, real food is great, but if you’re looking to lose weight, it’s not a miracle – you still have to eat less. If you eat a lot of junk food and switch to real food, you may lose weight due to all the fiber in veggies and fruits being much more filling.

So, to this current no-sweetener challenge. Many people report “withdrawal” symptoms like headaches, fuzzy-head, lack of concentration, etc., but I didn’t experience any of those things. I didn’t notice any physical effects at all, to be honest. I did notice great sleep the past two nights, but the other nights, not so much, so I’m not sure if that was the no sweeteners or not. I have gotten used to the coffee, but I do miss lots of things I used to eat, like putting dried cranberries on my salad, which has discouraged me from eating salads, so I think the cranberries are worth getting me to eat more salad. Also, I used to eat homemade biscuits with jam or honey, and I couldn’t have that for breakfast anymore. I didn’t like the biscuits with just butter, so I took to eating peanut butter toast (homemade bread with unsweetened peanut butter), which was pretty good. Some days I had breakfast burritos or quiche.  I lost three pounds, but I think that was mainly due to the fact that I consciously reduced serving sizes, and that there were no sugary treats after dinner, so this could be managed without giving up sweeteners altogether. (And I have lost over 20 pounds on weight watchers eating tons of cookies and other sugary things, so I know that’s true for me, whether healthy or not.)

Things I learned:

1) It’s pretty easy to give up sweeteners for 10 days. I knew I could have anything I was craving in a few days, so that made it easy. I thought it would be a lot harder, since people say it’s worse than giving up heroin. I didn’t find it that difficult, but just annoying when I couldn’t have what I wanted right then (instant gratification!).

2) Portion control is easier when there aren’t sweets around. When there are cookies or brownies or what have you, I can’t seem to stop at a reasonable portion. I will keep eating them until either I feel sick or they are gone. So it’s better not to have them around.

3) A little bit of sugar/sweetener is probably ok. If it gets me to eat my greens, I’m satisfied with the small amount of sugar in a handful of dried cranberries. (And yes, I’ve tried raisins, they’re ok, but not as good as the cranberries.)

My plan is to go back to eating the way I previously did, except restricting “treats” to the weekend, or special occasions like birthdays. This should help with overall portion control for the majority of days. I plan to keep up the smaller portions because I feel better when I eat less. I may try going back to organic sugar for coffee, since it is slightly less expensive than maple syrup.

What about you? Have you ever tried to give up sugar?

Today I saw a post on Facebook about a “No Kill Coalition” asking people to join a movement to stop kill shelters. Thousands of animals are killed in shelters each day in the United States, because no one wants to adopt them. However, the solution to this problem is simple. Spay and neuter your animals. No one benefits from an oversupply of puppies and kittens that no one wants, or can afford to take care of. Feral cats and dogs have to find their own food and defend themselves from predators, can carry diseases and be dangerous to humans. Others end up in kill shelters that can’t afford to keep the volume of animals showing up. 

I have 4 pets (2 cats and 2 dogs), and 3 of them were “unintentionally” bred. When I first got my purebred puppy, I thought of breeding him. He was so adorable, and I could just imagine what his little puppies would be like. I had some romantic notion that he “deserved” to be bred at least once, but I eventually realized that this was a human notion and not something the dog knew or cared anything about, so I had him neutered. He has been healthy and happy ever since, and although he has escaped from the back yard once or twice, I never had to worry he had fathered puppies that would end up in a kill shelter.

Don’t get me wrong, some of my fondest childhood memories are of our family dog having puppies. Once she had 11 puppies on Christmas morning! But even if you can find homes for all of your animals, there are so many more that won’t get homes. I just didn’t see a reason to breed my animals when there is a ubiquitous supply of them. And shelters aren’t the only place to find unwanted pets – just look on craigslist at all the free kittens and puppies, or stop by your local supermarket where you will find boxes of animals being given away. My son only got to experience the joy of newborn animals by visiting friends and relatives, but in my mind it was even better that way. He still got to see plenty of kittens and puppies growing up (among other animals) without our dogs and cats having any. (And without us having to find homes for them all.)

There are many costs associated with having pets, including food, veterinary care, flea prevention, grooming products, and collars and leashes and toys, not to mention the time and attention they require to be happy. The cost of spaying and neutering is part of being a responsible pet owner, and prevents unwanted kitties and doggies from ending up in a kill shelter. Think twice before taking one of those free pets, or even buying one, if you might not be able to afford all the related costs. Finding out a beloved pet is sick and not having the money to pay for medical care is heartbreaking, and so is the fact that so many unloved, unwanted animals are being killed on a daily basis.

Unless you’re a breeder, or trying to make extra cash by breeding your animal, are there any other reasons not to spay and neuter? What do you think?

 

 

Today I watched this Ted Talk about 10 mindful minutes by Andy Puddicombe. He asks the question, when was the last time you spent 10 minutes doing nothing? Not thinking, reading, texting, watching tv, but just doing nothing. With no more than the rudimentary instructions he gives to stand back from your thoughts and let them occur, I decided to give this a try. I’m calling it “freestyle” meditation, because I’m not following any particular meditation style, and I don’t know anything about the “correct” way to meditate. It’s an experiment, to see if I can get any benefits from just sitting and doing nothing.

You might wonder what I am hoping to gain from such an exercise. I’m thinking it will bring me the same kind of peace, the same kind of contentment, that I used to get from fishing with my father when I was a child. There was the initial busy work of baiting the hook and casting, the excitement of catching the fish and reeling it in, but then, in the in-between times, there was something else. Just sitting on the shore, with my pole in the water and my father next to me, watching the sunlight on the water and waiting for a bite, my thoughts drifted slowly across my mind, like fish swimming under the water.

So I arranged my ottoman facing the french doors, where I could see a patch of blue sky and green pine needles. I decided against sitting on the floor because it’s too hard to get up once I get down there (my knee has never recovered from that running injury last year). I set my timer for 10 minutes so I wouldn’t be checking the clock.

I focused on my breathing, gazing out at the pine needles swaying in the wind. I never have been able to do “deep breathing” – the kind they start off every exercise class or yoga video telling you to do. I just never felt I could breathe deep enough, or get into the slow rhythm. Therefore, I just breathed normally. Any time a thought came into my head, I consciously made the effort to let it go. I started to become aware of my body, the way my hands felt resting on my thighs. I noticed that my posture felt hunched over. I sat up straighter, but still relaxed. Several minutes into the exercise, I can’t be sure how long, but it seemed closer to the end of the 10 minutes, my breath changed. It started to get very deep, and more rapid. I didn’t do it on purpose. It seemed like my body decided to do it, like I needed more oxygen. This lasted for maybe a minute or two, then my breathing went back to normal. This was a strange sensation. I was fully awake and alert, but my body was doing something I hadn’t directed it to do. Shortly afterward, the timer went off.

I don’t feel anything earth shattering happened, although I have felt very calm today, I’m not sure I can say the meditation did it, since I have absolutely no one needing anything from me at this moment, and nothing I really need to get done, which sounds like an unusual occasion of calm anyway. But I did enjoy it. I probably won’t post about this every day, but will periodically if something interesting happens. I’ll let you know how it all turns out after doing this for 30 days.

One other note – I decided to take a walk afterwards, even though it was only 48, and my previous rule was no walks if it’s under 50 outside. I’m glad I went! I have now revised the rule downward to 45, if it’s sunny. It was actually quite warm.

Today we had the pleasure of watching a live broadcast of “The Phantom of the Opera” performed at theRoyal Albert Hall in London – celebrating the 25th anniversary of the show. It was broadcast live to a movie theater in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The highlight of the show was when Andrew Lloyd Weber came out at the end and introduced the original cast, and several former cast members sang two songs as an encore. Although I did feel that the “electric” sense of being in the same theater was lacking, there were some ways in which the show was better – the camera was able to move in close to the actors, show the orchestra close up, and show some of the set (like the chandelier) from angles you would never get in the theater. Also, tickets were only $20, so it is a much more affordable option than going to see the show in person.

There are several other shows that are broadcast live in movie theaters across the country. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and National Theater Live, the best of British theater, can all be found at http://www.fathomevents.com/
– look for a theater near you.

Here’s my challenge – find 52 fun things to do, preferably that I haven’t done before or rarely do. This week, we went to a corn maze. This particular maze, at Farmland Adventures in Springdale, had an Australian theme. There are two mazes, one shaped like a mama kangaroo with a baby in her pouch, and one shaped like a koala bear. The lack of rain this year means the corn isn’t as high as I imagined it would be, but it is still hard to find your way out. We took the mama kangaroo maze and got out in about 45 minutes. This maze also included a game, where you “collect” rubbings of different animals and secret words from stations within the maze. They also have a petting zoo, with piglets, goats, sheep, ponies, and donkeys, and pony rides, which my 6-year-old niece loved. Finally, they have a big pumpkin patch – and my son picked out a 35-pound pumpkin, which only cost $8. The cost of admission was $9 for adults and $7 for children, $10 for children includes unlimited pony rides. You can find more info at www.farmlandadventures.com. We had a great time!
The Great Pumpkin

We are completely surrounded by miracles, and I’m not talking about the face of Jesus in a tortilla. If you take the time to really think about things, you can’t help being amazed by what you see around you. Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, noted that trees are made from nothing but sunlight and air. Somehow, the plant manages to combine carbon from the air and the energy from the sun to grow a towering tree from a tiny seed. It seems to us that there is nothing there, just some light from the sun, and “empty” air, we can put our hands right through it. But this nothingness turns into something quite large and solid. Take some time today to look around and wonder.

Richard Feynman said of winning the Nobel Prize, that he didn’t need honors, “I’ve got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding things out.”

There are lots of great videos of Richard Feynman on youtube, I recommend the “Pleasure of Finding Things Out” series, here:

Richard Feynman, Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Part 1

All of Feynman’s 1964 lecture series are posted at the Tuvo Project, which includes additional text and comments. You’ll need to download and install Silverlight from Microsoft to see it, when you click on the link you’ll be prompted to download.

Nothing much has changed in public school education since I was a child in the seventies. Children are grouped together based on their age, not their aptitude, knowledge, or interest in any particular subject, and taught exactly the same thing as every other child.  The children who are at the lower end struggle to keep up and those at the higher end struggle to stay engaged. Law upon law is passed to ensure that kids get the same education in the same grade level. Why? Why can’t kids work at their own pace? Why not group kids according to their abilities? 

Salman Khan started out creating a few videos to tutor his cousins remotely. The videos were so popular that he created the Khan Academy, where kids can watch videos of math, biology, and history. Then they can practice what they learn and gain competencies, each one building on the previous one, until they have mastered advanced concepts. Some teachers are using this method to “flip” what they do in the classroom – they assign the videos as homework, then have the kids do “homework” in class, while the teacher is there to help them. After doing the exercises, teachers (and students) can see progress.  

Teachers can identify students who are “stuck” at a particular level, and even have students who have mastered the topic help the ones who haven’t been able to progress. Each student works at his or her own pace. One surprising result is that kids who start out at lower levels of competency, working at their own pace, do better over time – they become high performers. This doesn’t usually happen in a regular classroom. Most students who start out behind, end up behind. In Palo Alto, California, the school district is trying out the concept of letting the kids work at their own pace, and showing great results.

Can you imagine if all the greatest teachers in the world made videos you could watch, on every subject?

You can watch a great video of the inspiring story of Salman Khan on Ted.com, here:

Salman Khan Video

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